Thursday, February 28, 2008

Now Serving Hot Links

The Pioneer Woman Cooks Apple Dumplings
Now, I don't really care about apple dumplings much but she had me at the can of Mountain Dew. I am a sucker for those sorts of recipes. I know it's a weakness, a failing ... right up there with my love of (Velveeta) ... but I can't help it!

Inspector Chen, Shanghai Gourmet
World Foodie Guide has a good overview of this mystery series' focus on food. I can't remember but I think I may have tried Death of a Red Heroine ... perhaps if I try the second book in the series, when the food writing really gets going ...

Kids Make Butter
Slow Cook, one of my cooking blog finds of last year, has been running an occasional series about teaching kids to cook. This was a rather nostalgic read for me as my mother used to make butter for the household. Granted she did it using our KitchenAid mixer instead of a whisk, but the principle is the same.

Lagniappe from Russia

A tidbit from the book that made me think Russian cooking could be interesting (found at Borders for $10), read to you over at Forgotten Classics.

On Adding Sugar to Quick Breads

Tonia mentioned in the comments box for James Beard's Cream Biscuits:
I'm making these biscuits tonight, sans sugar. It seems people from outside the south think sugar should go in all quick breads -- cornbread and biscuits. I wonder why that is. I plan to omit the sugar in this recipe, despite my admiration for Beard.
I did want to mention that James Beard never lived in the South. He was a West Coast boy and then lived in New York for a large part of his life.

As to the whole "Southerners adding sugar to quick breads" I beg to differ. My mother always made a sweet, cake-like cornbread, having been raised in Ohio. It not only had a lot of sugar, but also a lot of white flour. I loved it, not knowing any better.

However, when I got to Texas I found the cornbread I truly fell in love with ... no sugar and just a touch of white flour so that the "cornmeal" taste comes through clearly, as exemplified in this Skillet Cornbread. This is one of the criteria our family uses to judge a restaurant as to whether the cooking is really Southern.

Just wanted to set the record straight on all that. :-)

Fragrant Vietnamese Chicken-Noodle Soup

Yes, I used Jim Fobel's Big Flavors this week as my main source. What can I say? Big flavors grab me.

This takes more time than you would think, due to the many fresh ingredients that need preparation. However, it is all very simple. Just don't do what I did and walk into the kitchen 45 minutes before you plan on serving dinner, only to see that the chicken should be marinated for 1-2 hours ... and then grilled or broiled. Guess what? It did just dandy with 1/2 hour of marinating.

My recipe notes:
  • I added basil, which makes it the spitting image of my favorite bowl of soup at our local Vietnamese restaurant.
  • I didn't have the thin rice sticks called for but, rather, broad rice noodles. They made for a bit more difficult eating perhaps, but worked perfectly well.
  • Not wanting to deal with grilling or broiling at the moment, I simply sauteed the chicken in the pot I later used for the soup.
  • I always use limes with this. Not only does it seem more authentic to me, but I like limes better.
Everyone loves this, even our discriminating Hannah.

Makes 4 main-course or 8 soup-course servings.

Chicken and Marinade
3 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press
1 pound split skinless and boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

8 ounces thin dried rice noodles or rice sticks (1/16")
8 cups chicken stock
About 1/4 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
5 large, thin slices fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press
8 whole scallions, cut into 1-1/2" lengths
4 cups fresh bean sprouts (12 ounces), rinsed and drained
2 cups finely shredded romaine lettuce (preferably the small inner leaves)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil (my addition)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped, unsalted, roasted peanuts
1 lemon or lime, cut into 8 wedges
Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce
  1. Marinate the chicken. In a large, shallow glass dish, stir together the fish sauce, lemon juice, ginger, sugar, and garlic. Add the chicken, turning to coat all. cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
  2. Preheat a charcoal grill or the broiler. Take the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels; discard the marinade. lightly coat the chicken with the vegetable oil. Grill or broil for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked to the center. Let stand until needed. If making ahead, when cool, cover and refrigerate. Tear into 1/2" wide shreds. If the chicken is cold, reheat in a small amount of the soup broth.
  3. Make the soup. Drop the rice noodles into a large pot of boiling water over high heat. After the water returns to a boil, cook for 1 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. let air-dry in the colander, tossing occasionally, for at least 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours.
  4. In a large saucepan or soup pot, combine the chicken stock, 1/4 cup of the fish sauce, ginger, and garlic. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. cover and keep warm until serving time.
  5. Just before ladling into bowls, bring the soup to a boil. Remove the ginger slices and add the scallions. Taste and add more fish sauce, if desired.
  6. For main-course servings, choose 4 large (6-cup) bowls. Into each, arrange one-fourth of the noodles (they will heat in the broth); one-fourth of the shredded chicken; 1 cup of the bean sprouts; 1/2 cup shredded lettuce; 2 tablespoons each of the mint, basil and cilantro; and 1 tablespoon of the chopped peanuts. Ladle in about 2 cups of the scalding hot broth, putting some of the scallions in each. Serve hot, garnished with lemon wedges. Guests should spoon in a little of the chili sauce to taste. For soup-course servings, use large shallow soup plates and halve the quantities given above.

Green Beans with Spicy Beef Sauce

Yet another fantastic recipe from Jim Fobel's Big Flavors. Fobel says in the head notes that he makes this ahead of time and then reheats it to get the fullest flavor. I made it and we ate it, with no stops in between and it was delicious.

Now, due to unexpected shortages in my kitchen I made a couple of revisions and mistakes ... it still came out wonderfully. In fact, this could be called a lesson in both forgiving recipes and adaptation on the fly.
  • Remember, you don't have to use a wok. A large frying pan will also work. The higher the edges, the better.
  • It calls for 2 pounds of green beans. I forgot that I had to have two pounds of beans for this and used one pound of beans earlier in the week. Oops.
  • The green beans should be fresh but I used frozen haricots verts. I figured I probably could do without the browning called for but thought I'd give it a try. I quickly tipped them in and covered the wok to avoid the worst of the spattering. To my amazement, they actually did brown. Ahem ... some of them browned a bit too well as I was distracted by making salad dressing ... but you know, you can fish out the completely burned, charcoal-like beans very easily. No one objects to the very well browned, almost burned beans and said that they added a deep note to the flavor. Thank goodness for easy-going eaters!
  • I forgot to get scallions. So we did without.
  • With the idea of making it more of a main dish, I doubled the meat called for. Since bison has a wonderful flavor but is quite lean, I used ground bison instead.
  • As I was using half the beans and double the meat, I left the sauce proportions alone. I did double the sherry since I doubled the meat.
  • Finally, when I went looking for bean sauce in the fridge, there was none to be found. I think that it was a victim of that time a few months ago when the compressor went south and we had several days of living from an ice chest. I forgot to replace that little item ... So I used oyster sauce. And a dab of ground chili sauce.
  • REVISITING: we made this again recently with the 2 pounds of fresh green beans and 1 pound of beef. Simply superb. I like a recipe that can adapt so gracefully!
Serve it with rice or noodles.

Green Beans with Spicy Beef Sauce
Makes 6 side-dish servings

8 ounces lean ground beef
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chinese hot bean sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon black Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Oriental sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
3-1/2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 pounds tender young green beans, topped, tailed, strings pulled, and halved on a severe angle.
1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 large clove, minced or crushed through a press
1/4 cup minced whole scallions
  1. Crumble the ground beef into a medium bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the sherry. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator until needed.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sherry with the cornstarch and stir to dissolve. Stir in the bean sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir in the stock; set the sauce aside until needed.
  3. Place a large wok over high heat and spoon in 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the green beans and stir-fry over high heat until well browned, 3-5 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup water, cover the wok, and cook until the beans are crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Transfer to a platter.
  4. Dry the wok with a paper towel. Return it to high heat and spoon in the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds. Crumble in the beef and stir-fry to brown well, about 1 minute. Add the scallions and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Stir the sauce and add it to the wok. Bring to a boil and cook, tossing, until slightly thickened. Add the beans and toss until heated thoroughly, about 3 minutes. turn out onto a platter and serve hot or warm.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Quick Loot at 5 Books and 1 Movie ...

... can be found over at Happy Catholic.

Turning a Skeptical Eye Toward Everyone's Favorite Target: Fast Food

Super Size Me was the most popular documentary of the year, and was nominated for an academy award. Its claims were generally accepted without critique by nearly everyone who watched it or even just heard about it. But this result was virtually guaranteed by Spurlock's choice of subject matter. McDonald's is probably the world's easiest target. It's always popular to be anticorporate; it's always popular to bash fast foods, and audiences are generally well predisposed to welcome any information that supports these concepts. ...

You see, Morgan Spurlock is not the only person to have ever tested fast-food-only diets, or even McDonald's-only diets. After his movie came out, many people repeated his experiment themselves, including a number of scientific institutions that applied controls and conducted the research in a scientific manner. At least three other documentary movies were made, Bowling for Morgan, Portion Size Me, and Me and Mickey D, in which the filmmakers lived exclusively on McDonald's food for 30 days but (unlike Spurlock) did not force themselves to overeat when they were not hungry. All filmmakers lost weight during the period and suffered no ill effects; and the subjects in Portion Size Me, which was scientifically controlled, also had improved cholesterol.
One of my favorite podcasts, Skeptoid, had a fascinating episode recently, examining what "everybody knows" about fast food. Brian Dunning, who has impressed me mightily with his even-handed and scientific approach to every subject I've heard him cover, looks at the documentary Super Size Me versus actual scientific evidence. Luckily for us, he also puts a full transcript of his shows on his website so you can go read the whole thing if you don't want to listen. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hot Links Comin' Up

Spring Time Cookies

Kuidaore has some of the most gorgeously decorated cookies. Go take a look, whether for inspiration, just to admire, or to sign up for her class!

Authentic Chicken Fried Steak?
You might be better off making it yourself, the Dallas Morning News food section says. And they show how.

Caldo de Pollo
I meant to put this link up a while back but better late than never, right? Dallas chefs share treasured recipes for chicken soup as found in Mexican home kitchens.

Largest Beef Recall in History is a Natural Consequence of Industrial Agricultural Practices
Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries has a thoughtful post about this, with which I am in full agreement.

Bittman Blogs
Mark Bittman recently began blogging. He has been writing about everything from debunking kitchen myths to types of rice to giving fried fish recipes.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Turkey Curry in a Hurry

This is from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe by the Cook's Illustrated folks.

I actually did roast a turkey and make this from the leftovers, along with some Turkey Tetrazzini, and many delicious turkey sandwiches. As well, before popping the bird in the oven, I cut off the wings and simmered them in some water with the neck, thereby also getting about 4 cups of turkey stock out of the deal. We tend to forget that not only does the price-per-pound go down on a whole turkey (or chicken) but there are many benefits to having the various bits to use in other ways.

At any rate, I didn't do a lot of what they wanted. For example, I didn't roast potatoes and carrots with my turkey, some of which to use in this curry. We wanted mashed potatoes and I'm not a cooked carrot fan. So that was out.

I didn't have any raisins. It was still delicious.

I forgot to buy cilantro. It was still delicious.

Anyway, you get the idea. This is a good base curry recipe for all sorts of variations. They caution you not to substitute low-fat or non-fat yogurt and I would agree that would make a big difference. I used Fage, that wonderful Greek yogurt. I treat myself to one container a week ... unless more is needed for something like this curry.

So enough nattering ... on with the recipe!

Step 1:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin (I also chopped it up a bit)
1/4 cup raisins (didn't have them)
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just shimmering. Add the onion, raisins, curry powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the onion is softened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Step 2:
2 cups roasted vegetables (didn't have them)
1 (15.5 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
10 ounces cooked turkey, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 cup frozen peas

Stir in the roasted vegetables, chickpeas, and water and cook, stirring frequently, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the turkey and peas and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Step 3:
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

Off the heat, stir in the yogurt and cilantro. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.

Rarely Have I Updated Thee, Little Blog ...

Judging from the inactivity around here, you wouldn't think that I have stacks of things to say about food and cooking. Yet I do have stacks and stacks. I vow that I will try to be a bit more regular in passing these goodies on to y'all.

First, let's all sit down with Duane Keiser, to Tea and a Sunbeam.